Since the start of the school year, it appears that everyone has completely forgotten that the last two years were spent either isolated or incapacitated by illness. With most lectures in person and the lack of hybrid classrooms, red-nosed students can be seen coughing all over the university campuses, and the number of people wearing masks has plummeted.
Natalia Huggins, an international student in Leeuwarden, experienced consecutive weeks of what she believed to be a cold before being admitted to the hospital for four days due to flu complications that led to pneumonia, an infection of the lungs. She revealed that because of the compulsory attendance policy, she and other students felt they had no choice but to attend class, disregarding their health and that of their peers. What’s more, she confesses to prioritising her school work over taking care of her health:
“I was mostly scared about not being able to pass my exam because I felt so tired and sick. I thought it would just be a normal cold and I could deal with it after my exam.”
Considering the impact of Covid-19, it seems strange that the preventative measures implemented have not stuck around following the end of the pandemic, particularly bearing in mind the impact of the lockdown on immunity. Due to the isolation experienced in the lockdown, our immune systems are weaker than they were before the pandemic, so infection can occur faster, with harsher symptoms.
According to the National Insititute for Public Health and Environment, otherwise known as the RIVM, basic corona prevention measures also work to prevent the spread of other viral diseases such as the influenza virus. So have we learned nothing from the pandemic?
Even common cold prevention is not taken seriously, which is surprising because the pandemic highlighted the gravity and prevalence of autoimmune diseases. Several viruses can cause the common cold, so it spreads very quickly, mutating as it hops from host to host. Despite the high infection and reinfection rate, common cold symptoms are much milder than the coronavirus.
While the cold is usually harmless, it shares symptoms with the flu, and flu-like symptoms are in turn frequently used to describe similar respiratory illnesses. However, unlike a cold, the flu is only caused by the influenza virus, and the symptoms can be much harsher, sometimes even leading to life-threatening complications.
Bearing in mind the potential health risks, let’s maintain the sentiments we held during the pandemic this winter, and prevent a flu epidemic with a few simple measures. Firstly, maintain a safe distance from others, even if they appear healthy. I have often found myself standing in line while the person behind me stands close enough to smell me. While keeping a 1.5-meter distance may seem unnecessary, many people have totally overlooked personal space, a sad fact considering the past couple of years.
Another measure that should become a social norm is wearing a mask in a crowded space, especially if you feel yourself becoming ill. The pandemic has proven that wearing masks prevents the spread of droplets made when people cough, sneeze or even talk. Lastly, institutions and organisations should encourage people to work from home when sick, utilising the online systems that we have in place.